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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Birthday Bashing: A Week Of Culture

As Griff explained in his Blog last Saturday, we recently celebrated the ~Streetlamp~'s second birthday/anniversary, and so all three of set about marking this event by indulging in a plethora of various art, music and cultural experiences.
Here's a more in-depth look at how we got on, who we met, and what we did....

We kicked things off in the West End of Glasgow(the Govan end) with a visit to Bellahouston Park. Our intention was to see a film work by the artist Henry Combes called "I Am The Architect, This Is Not Happening, This Is Unacceptable". However, as we approached the building it was to be shown in, the film-maker's secretary rushed out of a nearby car to tell us that the event had been postponed due to fault with the sound system. Although this was slightly disappointing, on the upside we did bump into our female doppelgangers....we're guessing that somewhere out there a femme-centric version of the ~Streetlamp~ is being run by three women!
We had a quick scout around the park; having a look round the gardens and checking out the last Art Deco building left from the Empire Exhibition of 1938.

Then it was off to the East End....

Walking past a life-style inflatable Stonehenge (no, really!!) we found ourselves right slap-bang in the very heart of the Barras where there exists one of the coolest art centres in Scotland....The Pipe Factory. You have to go searching for this place amongst the back streets of one of Glasgow's roughest areas. The place was locked up when we got there, but after persistently banging on the door and ringing the bell, we were greeted by the cheery, amiable presence of Alex Storey Gordon. Alex is the co-creator of the art installation that was taking place that afternoon; an event called Projector Director which he co-authored with his partner Kari Robertson. This was a collection of images displayed by old (and sometimes broken) slide projectors which allow the viewer to deconstruct the projected image, or to reduce a powerful image such as arch Capitalist Milton Friedman into a series of almost comical snapshots, thus rendering such a hate figure in a humorous light.

Alex took time to chat with us and to explain his work in some detail, something which goes against the more po-faced attitudes of some artists. We were equally impressed by the strange roughshod nature of the in the depths of Glasgow's East End, we were within a wrecked old building in which the sunlight shone through cracks in the brickwork casting an odd, fractured light throughout. One imagines that as the light changes outside, the ambiance of the art changes inside!

After lunch in the 13th Note (which Griff has already described as 'my dream pub') we headed up to Hillhead, to the University end of Glasgow. Here amongst some of the most spectacular architecture in all of Glasgow, we decide to visit the Hunterian Museum. Amidst the sarcophaguses(sarcophagi??) and body-parts-in-formaldehyde came the unusual occurrence of a Jazz quintet fronted by a gentleman with an impenetrable accent performing an accompaniment to an exhibition detailing a piece of wood that 'may' have come from the tree under which David Livingstone's heart was buried!! Confused? We certainly were!
Walking around the splendid grounds and the incredible buildings that make up Glasgow University, I felt pangs of sadness that I hadn't stuck in more at school and hadn't waylaid an education for the sake of Pop Music....

So that was Saturday!
On the Monday, Ray and I want to the Bo'ness Hippodrome to take in a rare showing of Otto Preminger's Noir whodunnit 'Laura'. Despite plot holes you could drive a bus through, and the fact that two of the main characters were inexplicably played as being a little light on their loafers, this was a superb, stylish, dreamlike thriller that, as someone in the crowd remarked at lights up, "they don't make  like that anymore".
Unfortunately Griff couldn't make it to this event which was a pity as it starred his favourite actress (and four tissue fantasy) Gene Tierney.

And so to Wednesday....
Despite almost being May, it was a cold and wet afternoon as we headed back into the heart of Glasgow. The rain was like sheets of icy razors and the perpetual grey of the skyline created a perturbing backdrop as we drove deep into the belly of the beast. Our search was for the SW3G art workshops, hidden away in the kind of gloomy backstreets you'd expect to see Jack Nance walking through, on his way back to feed 'the baby'.
Parking under an archway over which traffic rumbled ominously we found ourselves inside the cold, airy workshops. In the main part of the building was an installation by the artists Max Prus, José Eduardo Yaque Llorente & Diego Chamy.
After viewing this we headed upstairs to catch some of the noise-music performance by Australian composer/artist Marco Fusinato. Like being hit by a force of nature, it was almost impossible to believe that this wall of cacophony was being created by one man with a guitar and an effects box. Coming across like Hijokaidan without the ear-shredding dentist drill treble; Einsturzende Neubauten without the industrial machinery; or Boyd Rice/NON without the offensive political stance, this was quite something to behold. Kudos must be given to the young Buddhist who was using the noise to meditate to, and to the sound engineer who had been there for four hours by the time we arrived.

Going further upstairs we stumbled upon the beautiful bird/rodent hybrid creations of
Jamie Fitzpatrick. Jamie was there and allowed us to film and photograph his incredible work, whilst telling us how he mixed sculpture, roadkill and taxidermy to create his artistry. I think it was safe to say this was one of the highlights of our week.

Heading out of the main building and over to one of the adjoining studios, we caught a glimpse of '#Unravel', a musical installation collaboration between Aidan Moffatt of Arab Strap, and the Edinburgh experimental art/Pop music collective FOUND. Using ten 7" vinyl singles, the viewer/listener participates in unravelling the Narrator's story which, depending on which records you choose and how they in turn will prompt different music, could play out in over 160 variations. We won't spoil any of the story or how the project works, we'll just advise you to check it out. It runs until the 7th of May.

Heading across the M8, we decided to drop into the Scotland Street School Museum where there was an exhibition of Young Scottish Socialism through the 20th Century. We were quite surprised to learn that for most of the last century there had been Socialist Sunday Schools where the teachings of Christ were imparted in a Marxist/Anarchist way, rather than that of any religious denomination. It's pretty eye-opening stuff to see just how deep the Socialist ideology ran through Glasgow at the time of the two World Wars and up as far the early 70s, and it also saddened us that this pure Socialist view is no longer taken by the Labour Party whom we expected to carry it forward. I think the word 'Judas' may have been said a few times that afternoon. Ironically. Or not, as the case may be.

The school (now a museum) itself is quite a thing of beauty to behold, and it's never-to-be-seen-again architecture coupled with its history of Scottish school days makes it a fantastic place to visit.

Once school was out, we headed over to the East End of Glasgow where we we visited the rather wonderful Monorail Music. A shoe-in for best Record Shop in Glasgow, the shop is run by Scottish music legend Stephen Pastel, and Mr Pastel himself was behind the counter upon our visit. I should point out that Monorail is much more than a record shop; it is also a cafe with a selection of vegan and vegetarian foods, and there is also an art and printing studio within. There was a an exhibition of fake 12" record sleeves by the Obstacle Group arts project which gave us some of the best laughs of the day. The project is called Record Store and again runs until the 7th of May.
The shop itself was recovering from the previous Saturday's Record Store Day(at which Edwyn Collins had played a live set), so there were many vinyl rarities and bargains on offer. We were especially smitten by the lo-fi dreampop of Glasgow's own Golden Grrrls whose superb 'New Pop' is an early contender for my song of the year.

And there was also the dreamy, sun dappled music of Lightships whose music and video for their song 'Sweetness In Her Spark' captures perfectly everything I've tried to elucidate about love and the way it affects the light and the skyscape when your heart is full to bursting. The way a girl's silhouette or a streetlamp's glow against a bruised Summer sky can capture a moment that makes your heart beat in a different rhythm. Lightships are the new musical project of Teenage Fanclub's Gerard Love, but for us this is better than any of his principal band's oeuvre....

After all this art, we decided on a long dinner to chill out. This comprised of yet another visit to our favourite haunt, the 13th Note, where we enjoyed three veggie burgers, spicy fries, onion rings and a bowl of olives (bet you're glad you weren't in the car with us afterwards), all washed down with some staggeringly (and unexpectedly) expensive Chardonnay.
Then it was time to head round to the Britania Panopticon Music Hall, located up some back street in the Trongate area.

Built in 1857, it is Britain's oldest standing music hall, and it is where Stan Laurel made his stage debut in 1906. And that is part of the reason we were there....the Laurel & Hardy society, The Sons Of The Desert were using the theatre to show some of Stan and Ollie's best work. It was the first time many of us had ever seen Laurel & Hardy with an audience, and it was safe to say that the duo had lost none of their magic.

The theatre itself, despite being cold and draughty, is a thing of great beauty to behold, and it literally was like stepping back in time. The staff were dressed in appropriate garb of the times, and the place is set to hold many more events based on recreating the past. The theatre relies on charitable support to maintain its upkeep, so we urge you, if you can, to check the place out if you have the opportunity.

So that was our birthday week of culture. Beautiful, surreal, edgy, politically fervent, and at times dreamlike (and that's just us three), this was quite some week. We must do it again some day.
Roll on next year!!


Friday, 27 April 2012

Griff says; Turn off your television and walk this way

There's something about Swedish bands that seems to appeal to me. I've been having a think about it and I've decided that it's because Sweden is at a similar latitude to Scotland. Now you may be wondering why that matters, so I'll elaborate. In the Summer in these Northern latitudes we have long, bright nights where darkness hardly falls. These are the days where we play on the beaches, swim in the lochs, hike in the mountains and drink cold beers in the park with our friends. Sometimes, when the weather is good, it feels like the summer will never end and we spend weeks falling in and out of love to a soundtrack of bright and energetic pop. In my opinion, that's the milieu that produces twee-pop and it explains why Sweden and Scotland are the world centres of that genre. However, there's also a downside. In the winter, we hardly see the sun and the midwinter can bring several weeks of night. Artists exposed to that sort of climate will always have a touch of melancholy about them; a brooding and reflective shadow that stalks the sunshine of their music.
Now you may think all of the above is rot but I honestly believe that there is something of the truth in it and it explains why I feel such an affinity with bands like Mellow Dramatic Avenue and tonight's offering, the Swedish trio Turn off your television. Hailing from Malmö, the band line-up is;

Vocals, guitar and other stuff: Jon Rinneby
Bass: Stellan Lofberg
Drums and vocals: Erik Willman

They released their eponymous debut album in October of last year to glowing reviews, most of which compare them favourably to American indie-rock band Sparklehorse. The comparisons are fairly obvious as Turn off your television do proffer a similar mellow, country-tinged, post-rock fare. The other band that they are reminiscent of, to these ears, is Grandaddy. I think those comparisons will give you a fair idea of the Turn off your television sound. However, if you need further convincing, I've embedded their latest single, Long Walk, below:

Pretty good, right? The single is available as a free digital download from their bandcamp page, as are their previous singles and the aforementioned album. So, what are you waiting for? Why not take a walk over and see for yourself?


Sunday, 22 April 2012

~Kitten Wine~#34: Awakenings prt2: Tonight Were Gonna Party Like It's 1999

In the second of my Blogs about the late 1990s, we look at the events of 1999, possibly the most transitional period of my life, and how it was soundtracked by an oddly beautiful album called 'Overcome By Happiness' by the Pernice Brothers.....
So 1998 evaporated into 1999, and I was still pounding the streets after my re-awakening from the wilderness of self-inflicted isolation. 1998 had played out in what is now, rather shamefully, known as 'the Summer of Single Mothers' (and yes, it probably means exactly what you think it means!), but I still could not have seen the juggernaut that was 1999 coming hurtling towards me.
1999 began with an incident with a mad girl named Alison, and was followed almost immediately by a strange relationship with a married woman (who was actually 7 years younger than me, and had married young) called Melanie. Melanie's (moribund) marriage meant that there were no strings attached in any way, so when one night, exactly 13 years ago this week, I was introduced to someone new, there were no hard or awkward feelings between me and Melanie.
It was Ray who did the introductions....some girl he used to work beside came over and started talking to him as we frequented the weekly Bannockburn meat-market-parading-as-a-disco, and he pointed out that she was the daughter of one of our old High School teachers. This was like a red rag to a bull with me, and I immediately followed her and began talking to her, something I would never have done in the preceding four years. Almost as soon as we began talking, the world seemed to shift on its axis....from that very opening sentence my whole life changed and went in a direction I could never have foretold, nor have ever expected. The girl's name was Elizabeth, but everyone called her Libby, and we've been together from that very first introduction, getting married two years ago.

"I feel better now you're gone// A minute in the sunlight// Can take away a whole life// Still, there's something about you"....the opening lines from 'Clear Spot', a track from the then latest album by the Pernice Brothers, 'Overcome By Happiness', which I had just bought that afternoon, and had played several times before going out that night. The Pernice Brothers had began life as the Scud Mountain Boys, purveyors of aching, poignant alt-Country, but had now decided to play at being a Pop/Rock band....the transition was seamless!
And that opening line hit the (clear) spot perfectly; I feel better now WHO is gone? The depression? The self-enforced exile? The other girls who walked all over me and left their stilettos in my heart? A minute in the sunlight can make you see clearly that all you previously thought you knew was wrong, and it can eradicate a useless existence. There's something about you....and there was....

(the video below says 'Overcome By Happiness', but I assure you this is 'Clear Spot')

'Overcome By Happiness' is a peculiar album, as it features upbeat songs about suicide, heartbreak and desolation, and slow aching songs about true love and contentment. Take for example the song 'Chicken Wire', it's all about a girl who gasses herself in her garage. That's all it is about! We never really find out much about the girl, but we know that the garage is full of chicken wire, along with Winter tyres and an old lawn mower....but it's one of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear....

The whole album is bathed in a particular beautiful light that you only see at certain times in your life. That magical, late Summer light when it's still warm enough to sit outside after 10:00pm, sharing a beer or a bottle of wine with friends, and you feel the first thoughts of Autumn encroaching upon that last ray of sun against the bruised sky. The same light you only see when you're in love.
Take, for example, the track 'All I Know' with it's Beach Boys Smile-era string arrangements and honeyed tenor vocals, it's a song that fully encapsulates that golden late Summer sunshine tinged with the melancholy of that first Autumn day....and that's before we even look at the lyrics; "All your friends may go// And your luck may go// but you'll never feel as bad as when SHE goes// It's all I know". Add to that the verse "All the time you were happy// It makes the end so hard to take// How a voice can fill the room like singing// The crooked moon upon her face" why did a beautiful song about the end of a relationship resonate so deeply at the time? Because, as with 'Clear Spot', it was my old life I was bidding farewell to. Don't ask me how, but I knew from the very start that this was the girl I would spend either a long time, or the rest of my life with. And it was time to put away the childish things, to bid adieu to tiresome nights in the pub, to hang up my wild years, to stop feeling like a ship without a rudder, flailing about in stormy and damaging seas of my own making, and to finally get my life into some kind of cohesive order....

Finally, after a decade of unhappiness and blank existing, I could bury the previous 10 years and start again. It was like being back at the tail end of 1989. With Libby the days and nights, especially in that first year or so, would be filled with concerts, going to the movies, restaurants, days out, nights in, and a sense of well-being that I had long believed would elude me forever.
In the gorgeous 'Crestfallen', there lies the exact summation of everything I felt at that time; "Oh I Need somebody who won't see through me// Was happy living a lie// Thought I was fine// Then it breaks without a sign// It's hard to read a simple mind// Leaves me looking back for a thing I'll never find// It's a long way to fall// When you find out how it never was// It's a long way to fall// When you find out that it never happened at all".....

And so, here we are, 13 years on, and Libby and I aren't just still together, but we are now married. Two years ago we got hitched in what became something of a ~Streetlamp~ wedding as both Griff and Ray were my Best Men. It was a spectacular day, almost certainly the happiest day of my life, and something I would have never thought possible back in that grim period of 1994-98. My only regret on the day was that I didn't get more say in the music that was chosen for the occasion. Maybe, I should have chosen a Pernice Brothers track, but maybe the time wasn't right for evening sun-dappled tales of existential anguish, suicide and melancholy.
All I know is, that from the moment I met Libby, all that waiting for something special to happen....stopped!


Dedicated to Libby....I Love You xxx 

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Streetlamp Blog - Two years old and still going strong

The Streetlamp Team enjoyed a day out in Glasgow today; visiting some of the exhibitions and events which are part of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art. As is our custom, we enjoyed a break from the galleries/exhibition spaces and grabbed a bite to eat in Glasgow's best music venue/vegetarian and vegan cafe The 13th Note. As we dined, under the watchful gaze of the Note's Alex Harvey portrait, the sound of The Smith's Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want drifted from the jukebox and Gordon, pointing out the Twin Peaks quote above said machine, remarked;
 "You know, this pub could have been designed just for me. It's my dream pub." 

The above scenario should hopefully paint a picture of almost perfect contentment and, without wanting to be hubristic, I hope you'll agree that The Streetlamp team deserve their moment of fulfillment, as today is the second anniversary of our very first blog post. Since that tentative start, the blog has found its niche among the thronging crowds of music blogs jostling for attention, and has taken off in a way that none of us involved in it could have ever imagined. We have now had around 75,000 individual page views for our home made articles on music, film, art and politics and enjoy comments and encouragement from every corner of the globe. That being so, we'd like to wish ourselves a Happy Birthday and extend a heartfelt Thank You to every one of you, The Streetlamp readers. To help us do that, here's Annalie Prime with a short song:
Annalie - Happy Birthday by +Annalie

 Griff xx

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Griff says; Chalk and Numbers - school of classic pop.

It's not so long ago that I confessed to The Streetlamp's love of the bouncy and breezy pop candy-floss that is the classic 60s, girl-group, pop sound (see 'here'). So, if you're frequenting these pages in the hope of finding more music in that vein ( or, perhaps, just want a break from the melancholy, maudlin indie-folk I'm frequently touting) then tonight is your lucky night. The band I'm featuring tonight are a girl/boy duo from Brooklyn, New York, US who both have previous form in the world of indie music. The boy in question is Andrew Pierce ( formerly of Nouvellas and The New Rags) and the girl is Sable Yong (of Year of the Tiger). Together, they record under the name of Chalk and Numbers and in January of this year they released their debut EP, entitled 'He Knew', to widespread acclaim. The EP is available as a free download from their bandcamp page and if you like Camera Obscura, the Beach Boys or the Phil Spector sound ( I've certainly just pushed ALL of our Gordon's buttons) then you'll love this band.
The songs are written and arranged by Pierce and, in order to capture that authentic retro 60s feel, are apparently recorded using vintage analogue equipment. I've embedded the EP's stand-out track, 'When Summer Is Through', below to whet your appetite:

Now go check out the rest of their stuff!


Sunday, 15 April 2012

~Kitten Wine~#33: Awakenings prt1: Tonight Were Gonna Party Like It's 1998

As I seem to point out in every Blog these days, the 1990s weren't a very good time for me, whether it be musically, culturally or personally. However, in the next couple of Blogs I'm going to take a look at the tail-end of the 90s and how it became one of the most important times of my life, and how two album released in the death-rattle of that horrid decade soundtracked my re-awakening and re-entry back into reality.
We begin in the Spring of 1998 with a look at 'Recorded In State', an album by the band Scott 4....

Without sounding like a stuck record, the 1990s began badly....then got worse.
As I've stated many times, I was stricken by depression in the Autumn of 1991, a weird, scary, debilitating depression linked to OCD that affected me for much of the rest of that decade, and which still raises it's ugly head every now and then.
For three years I battled against it in vain, but in 1994, after it had destroyed yet another relationship I was in, I simply gave in and decided to shut myself away. It was November 1994, and after over a decade of going out most nights of every week, I decided to stay inside and hide myself away from everything. It would make everything a little safer at least. For the next four years I practically became a recluse, hiding away from the world, drinking too much wine, and watching virtually nothing but Exploitation movies, video nasties, Spaghetti Westerns and Laurel & Hardy videos. I seemed to have lost all interest in music...all I seemed to listen to was Morrissey, Pulp and Tindersticks. And I never went to any gigs any more. It was four years of pretty unhealthy living.

Then, in March of 1998, something strange happened, completely out of the blue. I got set up on a blind date. Despite my protestations and digging my heels in, I gave in and went reluctantly on the date. It was the first time I had been out on a Friday night in nearly four years.
So there I was....out on a date with a girl called Alice(here I should point out that this is not her real name, though it is pretty close. It's just that I don't know who reads this Blog and I don't want to cause any offence or embarrassment). The date went okay, if a little trepidatious on my part, and we decided to meet up again. By about the third or fourth date it was becoming clear that this was a girl who was pretty wild, and who had no inhibitions regarding sex, drugs or partying. To say it was a culture shock was something of an understatement....after 4 years of celibate seclusion to find myself in the centre of the whirling vortex that was Alice was a reality check that hit like a bucket of ice-water. She looked like a hybrid of Phoebe from Friends and Traci fact if you've seen the cover of Pulp's 'This Is Hardcore', she looked like the girl on the cover of that. And let's just say she didn't just look like Traci Lords.....

So the Spring of 1998 became a pretty wild time, leaving me well out of my comfort zone. I've often felt, now with hindsight, that this was exactly what I needed to happen....something to shake me out of the torpor I had found myself in. Had I just dated another of the type of girls I had been with in the past, I probably would have allowed the depression and doubts to take over again. But to have the yolk that made me reclusive completely shattered from me was such a revelation and such a culture shock that it sprung me back into life. For the first time in years I was going to clubs, discos and parties; songs like 'Intergalactic' by the Beastie Boys, 'Ray Of Light' by Madonna, 'It's Like That' by Run DMC & Jason Nevins, and even 'Because We Want To' by Billie soundtracked these sudden and unexpected wild nights. But it was an odd, strangely downbeat album by a band I knew very little about that seemed to score that whole period, and an album which even now evokes everything about that mad time with Alice....

I knew nothing about the band Scott 4 except that they were named after a Scott Walker album and that they were a trio from London. Reviews in the music papers aligned them with definitely 'non' British music forms; Southern Blues, Krautrock, Hip-hop beats and Kraftwerkian electronics were liberally sprinkled through the articles. The album, 'Recorded In State', has an unusual, drowsy, sour-mashed, four-in-the-morning feel that seemed to cling to me, as if it was allowing me to have a good time yet constantly reminding me that a Serotonin drop was always just around the corner.
Lead single 'East Winter' is probably an ideal starting point; over a precise electronic rhythm there's a hip-grinding bar-room swagger.....  

Strangely, it's the more laid back, almost somnolent tracks that really provoke vivid Proustian recollection upon re-listening these years later. Take, for instance, the song 'Aspirins'; over a Country-ish twang, singer Scott Blixen delivers a lo-fi Neil Young impersonation of a vocal, a vocal that hangs in the air like a narcotic heat haze on the horizon, "You're a piece of shit// You will deserve it....yeah". I always loved the way he delivers that line and it still causes some jag of recognition inside me from somewhere. In normal circumstances I would have never gone anywhere near a girl like Alice, someone so free-spirited and uninhibited because I always like to have some order in my life, and because if I fell too heavily for her I could have gotten really hurt badly. Yet somehow I knew it wasn't going to be a long term relationship, and I think we just took all that we could get from each other while it was up for grabs(which is not meant to sound disrespectful, as I'm sure she felt the same way). So when Scott drawls, "You said the last time....was the last time", I could relate it to this very situation....I knew it would end, I just didn't care!

Often, after we'd either been out clubbing or had been at some especially toxic party, there was always that strange period when we got back to her flat, and for a few moments we would chill out....the calm between two storms in a sense. That's where the track 'Philly's Song' comes in....probably the song that most strongly encapsulates, for me, that whole time, "Your night-dress hangs so pleasantly// Around your hips and shoulders" goes the opening line, but it's the recurring refrain of "There's soul tonight// It's not mine by right" that just transports me back to that flat; the moments of anticipation followed by the sense of intense heat, lying awake in her bed while she was sound asleep and I was wondering quite how I ended up in this unexpected situation....

Obviously the relationship was NEVER going to last. Almost from day one my friends would advise me that "She's not the girl for you, mate", and I knew what they meant and none of it really bothered me. It ended with an upbeat giggly phone call, and the last transaction between us was a postcard from Florida. And that was it. I never regretted anything nor felt bad in any way when it was over. All I did feel was a sense of days locked away in bedroom were over and, as Jarvis Cocker once sang, "It doesn't make no sense, no// It's not convenient, no// It doesn't fit my plans, but I've got that taste in my mouth again!"....and I did! I was back in the game and those few short hedonistic months with Alice had me fired up ready to take on the world again.
The Summer that followed was like a return to my teenage years, and sure, the depression would always be there somewhere like sniper waiting to take me out, but for now it could go and fuck itself. The Summer of 1998 was a long, balmy and indeed barmy one, and would be the last I would spend as a free man(something I obviously didn't know at the time), so it was spent in a blaze if glory.
And as Scott Blixen sings on 'Miss Godess Nr.2', "I ain't seen no sunshine// Since I don't know when// And I'm stuck in my own prison"....that line resonates deeper than anything else I heard in music that year....because I had been stuck in a prison of my own making..... 

And Alice Uninhibited set me free....

Thanks Alice!


Monday, 9 April 2012

Would You Help A Stranger ?

I was reading an article the other day about a psychological phenomenon called the bystander effect. It refers to cases where individuals witnessing someone in an emergency situation do not offer any means of help to the victim when other people are present.
The effect was first demonstrated, in the laboratory, by social psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané, in 1968, after they became interested in the topic of bystander apathy following the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964.

Kitty Genovese

The case of Kitty Genovese is often cited as the archetypal example of the bystander effect.  For those who don't know the details, Genovese, 28 years old, was stabbed to death on March 13, 1964. She was on her way back from work, to her apartment in Queens, New York, in the early hours of the morning when she was attacked by a serial rapist and murderer. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, the attack lasted for at least a half an hour, during which time Genovese screamed and pleaded for help. The attacker eventually fled the scene after attracting the attention of a neighbor, only to return ten minutes later and finish the assault. Newspaper reports after Genovese's death claimed that 38 witnesses watched the stabbings and failed to intervene or even contact the police until after the attacker fled and Genovese had died.
The case, understandably, became something of a cause célèbre and although the facts, as reported by the press, have since been disputed, the story's power as an example of the callousness of the denizens of large cities, and perhaps more generally that of all modern humanity, makes it suitable as a telling parable on the attitudes prevalent in contemporary life. The strength of the story lies too in its ability to make the hearer think on how they would respond in the same circumstances; although it's unlikely that many of us really answer truthfully. So, how do we explain how this sort of thing can happen?

There are, in fact, many reasons why bystanders in groups fail to act in emergency situations, but social psychologists have focused most of their attention on two major factors. According to a basic principle of social influence, bystanders monitor the reactions of other people in an emergency situation to see if others think that it is necessary to intervene. Since everyone is doing exactly the same thing (nothing), they all conclude from the inaction of others that help is not needed. This is an example of pluralistic ignorance or social proof. The other major obstacle to intervention is known as diffusion of responsibility. This occurs when observers all assume that someone else is going to intervene and so each individual feels less responsible and refrains from doing anything.

Whatever the explanation, Kitty's tragic story resonated through the public conscience. This led to widespread public attention, and many hand-wringing editorials.

Predictably,  the story, grisly and dramatic as it is,  also provided material for artists and the sad tale
of Kitty Genovese began to permeate through modern culture. It's one of the most thoughtful and succesful of these that I'd like to bring to your attention today.

Phil Ochs
Folk singer Phil Ochs was inspired by Kitty Genovese's murder to write the 1967 song "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends". This song relates five different situations that, ostensibly, should demand action on the part of the narrator, but in each case the narrator is left to conclude that "I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends"

Outside A Small Circle of Friends

Look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.

Riding down the highway, yes, my back is getting stiff
Thirteen cars are piled up, they're hanging on a cliff.
Maybe we should pull them back with our towing chain
But we gotta move and we might get sued and it looks like it's gonna rain
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.

Sweating in the ghetto with the colored and the poor
The rats have joined the babies who are sleeping on the floor
Now wouldn't it be a riot if they really blew their tops?
But they got too much already and besides we got the cops
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.

Oh there's a dirty paper using sex to make a sale
The Supreme Court was so upset, they sent him off to jail.
Maybe we should help the fiend and take away his fine.
But we're busy reading Playboy and the Sunday New York Times
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends

Smoking marihuana is more fun than drinking beer,
But a friend of ours was captured and they gave him thirty years
Maybe we should raise our voices, ask somebody why
But demonstrations are a drag, besides we're much too high
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends

Oh look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends

[ Additional verse, 1974]

Down in Santiago where they took away our mines
We cut off all their money so they robbed the storehouse blind
Now maybe we should ask some questions, maybe shed a tear
But I bet you a copper penny, it cannot happen here
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends

Ochs was an American protest singer (or, as he preferred, a topical singer) and songwriter. He is as well-known now, however, for his prolific social activism and his unfortunate sad decline and early death. His song writing is notable for its mixture of sharp wit, sardonic humor and earnest humanism. He wrote literally hundreds of songs in the 1960s and released eight albums in his lifetime. He eventually took his own life in 1976, aged just 35.

Phil, sadly, may no longer be with us, but as I read about the bystander effect and the story of Kitty Genovese, and I thought about Phil's response to it, and his response to many of life's injustices, it made me realise how little things have changed since then. We still have crushing poverty in developing countries and crushing inequalities of wealth in developed countries. We still have institutionalised racism. We still have armed robbery masquerading as foreign policy. We still have the press spreading misinformation to divide the workers and keep them weak. 

We could stand up for our brothers and sisters in Greece and Spain. We could stand up for the brutalised and oppressed Palestinian people. We could stand up and say 'No More War!'
We could fight every day with every fibre in our bodies for the disposessed, the wrongly-imprisoned, the humble, the old, the poor, the ill, the weak and the vulnerable. 

As Phil might say, "Someone must, and if not us, then who else?"


Gordon adds:
Phil Ochs is one of my favourite singer-songwriters of all time, for me, even better than Dylan. My favourite song of his is 'Changes' from his 1966 Live LP. The version on there (which is the last song of the concert) is so emotional that his voice cracks on the final verse and literally catches the breath. It's a song that could be about America and the fact that the youth are starting to have their say, or it could also be about Phil looking back at his own youth and feeling melancholy about its passing. That makes the song even more moving, given what we now know about Phil's Bipolar disorder and his early death.
Unfortunately, that particular version isn't on Youtube, but this equally emotive version is:    

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Phallus in Wonderland - The John Holmes Prick Parade

Earlier this year I posted a piece on the art of British artist Jamie McCartney. In particular,I drew your attention to his controversial, epic sculpture 'The Great Wall of Vagina' (see 'here'). Since writing that article I've been rather dogged by a feeling of guilt. As you know, we here at The Streetlamp are proud of our almost impeccable feminist credentials ( I'm choosing to ignore Gordon's previous scurrilous remarks about my lusting after Björk at this point) and I was aware after writing the article, even taking into account its championing of female genital diversity, that I needed to balance things out a bit. You see, I feel as though I've rather fallen into the trap of adding to the mountain of images, artworks or otherwise, of the naked female form which proliferate in our culture and I'm not altogether happy with that. Students of feminist theory will be aware of the concept of "the male gaze" and I certainly don't want to be accused of falling into that convention.

That was why I was pleased and surprised recently when I came across a female artist who made waves with an exhibition last year, which featured the erect male member as its focus. And not just any old erect male member either. No, this exhibition was built around the not inconsiderable asset of legendary 70s and 80s porn star John Holmes. Called The John Holmes Prick Parade, the exhibition took place last September at the Eve Drewelowe gallery in the UI Studio Arts Building in Iowa City, US. Unfortunately, the exhibition is no longer running but the artist's photographs of the event can be seen 'here' and also throughout this article.

The artist in question is Emily Moran Barwick (pictured above) who is originally from Jacksonville, Florida, US and is a current MFA candidate in Sculpture at the University of Iowa. Barwick has used a wide range of media in her artwork; ranging from a stoneware clay figure to 100 identical Barbie dolls staged outside of Wal-Mart to an interactive cookie performance piece. Despite this great variety in her methods of expression, she continually focusses on the same interconnected themes: basic human connection, relatability, self-expression, and self-discovery.

Barwick often centres her work around the human body but also tries to deliver her message in a light-hearted, humorous manner that make it more accessible. For this exhibition, Barwick created a rubber and plaster mould using a sex toy, itself moulded from Holmes' actual penis. She then created numerous plaster sculptures, sent them out to fellow artists with instructions to decorate them as they wished. The finished exhibition features 30 individually decorated plaster penises.

So, what do 30, individually designed and formally displayed John Holmes penises actually represent? Barwick says:

"What I was interested in with doing this, and generating this, is talking about ownership of the body and the commodification of the body.

In our society, our body very often becomes a commodity item, and this [exhibit] is a very literal example of that, a very extreme example of that.

"Commodization of parts of our bodies can include examples as commonplace as a bared woman's shoulder in a lotion advertisement, to the extreme, and now much more mainstream practice, of porn stars selling sex toys based on their bodies, in this case, the John Holmes penis."

"It's the fact that parts of our bodies are used to sell products, without even the inclusion of a whole individual."

The artist's statement, which accompanied the exhibition, also makes the point that:

"The nude female form has long dominated as the artists’ subject. The John Holmes Prick Parade hopes to give some visibility to the much neglected male apparatus. This is a move towards balancing gender equality within the anatomical object-ification of the art world."

An excellent and noble ambition, and one which The Streetlamp hopes it has gone some way to addressing with this blog.

So, you're wondering now, what piece of music will Griff use to accompany this piece? There was only one contender. The track below is the excellent 'A cultural history of the penis' a fine piece of downtempo electro-pop from Garmisch, a music collective from Malmö, Sweden.

Garmisch - The Cultural History of the Penis by EuroMedia Zagora

Garmisch formed in 2006 and were originally known as Garmisch Partenkirchen. The current line-up is; Charlotte Fagerlund, Stefan Bodetoft, Birgitta Persson, Charlotte Lundgren and Patrik Svensson (pictured)

Most of the band's output is available as free digital downloads and they are well worth seeking out if you like a bit of chilled and mellow electropop. Downloads of the music proliferate all over the internet but the best places to visit are; the band's own website, their page, their page, their facebook page, or from the blocsonic site.



Sunday, 1 April 2012

I Misplaced It At The Movies: Give Daddy The Knife, Cindy!

As I've stated in some of my previous Blogs about the 1960s, 1967 was a particularly peculiar year, in that not only was it Paisley patterned and lysergic of hue, but that all contemporary culture of the time, be it art, books, TV, movies or especially music, at some point tried to capture that whole psychedelic try and evoke for the viewer or listener, the feeling of tripping on acid.

There were several movies which tried to emulate the LSD experience; from the hokum of 'The Acid Eaters', 'Mantis In Lace' and 'The Hooked Generation', to more serious fare like Otto Preminger's 'Skidoo' or 'Movie Star, American Style', to Roger Corman's 90 minute LSD commercial 'The Trip'. Often, like the music that equally attempted to convey hallucinatory properties, the films were ponderous and dull, unless the viewer themselves were under the influence.
Of all the 'acid' films from 1967-68, perhaps only one actually captured the zeitgeist full-on, yet thanks to poor distribution and muddled ownership rights, the film remains long unseen with very little prospect of any DVD release or re-print in the immediate future. That film is 'Give Daddy The Knife, Cindy!', a film most people will only have heard of thanks to the 1984 release of it's soundtrack album, the only album by 60's underground legends Naz Nomad & The Nightmares.
Around about 1995 I managed to see a bootleg print of the movie; murky, faded and scratched beyond repair, there was still a buzz of excitement as the film played. Here, roughly, is what I recall of the synopsis, aided by articles from Psychotronic and Incredibly Strange Films:
The film begins with Cindy, a troubled teen played by former child star April Fuller, leaving her trailer-trash home and her abusive, alcoholic mother who blames her for her husband(Cindy's father)'s disappearance. Cindy joins her friend Suzie(Arlene Sue Farber, star of Teenage Mother) and they hit the road in search of good times. Along the way they meet up with a friendly and benevolent Hell's Angel (yeah, right!!) called Trip who is played by an unrecognisable Arch Hall Jr who, in the 5 years since Eegah and Wild Guitar has gone from pudgy, blonde quiffed teen to bloated, straggly haired, bearded burn out. He lets the girls crash at his pad. He waits to pull off a drugs score while the girls head off to local frug-a-go-go bierkeller The Orange Rooftop Of Your Mind (oh, come WAS 1967!!). As the girls twist and jive amid swirly oil-light shows to beat combo Naz Nomad & The Nightmares, Trip's drug deal goes badly wrong. VERY badly wrong! An evil looking bunch turn up, tell Trip his LSD is contaminated and caused two of their friends to die in horrible hallucinatory agony. They beat the shit out him....and the life too!
The girls return to Trip's shack to find him dead, his bike gone, and his possessions ransacked. Luckily(?) Cindy knows where Trip kept his stash of LSD....taped under the Frigidaire along with his flick-knife(uh oh!). Of course, she doesn't know the LSD is dodgy(UH OH!!).
Next day the girls return to the Club where they meet a couple of free spirits they had encountered the previous night. They all get into a psychedelic-painted VW transporter and head off in search of the beautiful people. They arrive in what is clearly supposed to be Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco but what is obvious to Exploitation film fans as Coral Castle in Miami Florida. Here, after a blatantly fake 'love-in', they meet up with some Hippy types who invite them all back to 'the White House', a large mansion owned by acid-guru Daddy Oh, a clear imitation of Timothy Leary.
The White House is a non-stop party and in one of the most authentic 'acid' scenes in cinema history, all the principle characters take LSD under Daddy Oh's tutelage in the spacious front room. In this scene which lasts around 8 minutes, it is quite obvious that some (maybe even all) of the actors have ingested something. The camera moves verité style amongst the throng capturing snippets of loony babbling, some staring ahead dead-eyed, some freaking out and in some distress. It almost appears like it's footage taken from a social experiment, and is quite fascinating.

After this, Daddy Oh announces that the party will continue later with a live band. The live band turn out to be Naz Nomad & The Nightmares (hey! Who'd have guessed?).

Cindy, wanting the LSD experience to keep going, decides to take a Tab of Trip's dodgy acid....oops! Cue a final 15 minute section viewed almost entirely from Cindy's freaked-out perspective; all sonorised film stock and reverbed screaming accompanied by the pounding soundtrack of the band. This is okay for a little while but after 15 minutes it all gets a little too much for the viewer.

Cindy climbs to the roof of the building yelling how she's going to fly away. A young man tries to stop her but she pulls the flick-knife from apparently nowhere and slashes him. The other party-goers edge towards her, Daddy Oh at the front like a calming influence. "Give Daddy the knife Cindy" he says, and in a quick flashback we see the young Cindy standing before her abusive father as he beats her mother. She plunges the knife into her father, her mother screams and begins hitting Cindy. "Give Daddy the knife Cindy" Daddy Oh says again. Cindy stops....the camera holds on her face....a terrible special effect turns her eyes red....she lunges forward, knife towards Daddy OH....freeze-frame on Cindy as screaming breaks out all around....The End.

There's no denying that director Ray Burns has tried to capture 'something' of the spirit of that Summer Of Love vibe, but low production values and a false geographical setting work against the picture. Most of the crew and extras were borrowed from the Herschell G Lewis stable and the for years the film was included in Lewis's filmography, but he had nothing to do with the film.
Of course the film is a complete time-capsule, there's no way this film could have been made in any year other than 1967 yet, the verité scene apart, it still looks a lot more dated than, say, 'Riot On Sunset Strip' or 'Psych-Out'.
These days the film appears to be lost. Even Something Weird Video don't have this one, although the trailer does show up on their 'Alice In Acidland' DVD.

Minor interest in the film surfaced around 1984 when Big Beat Records released the Naz Nomad soundtrack album. Then, a year later, Clive Jackson (aka Doctor from the band Doctor & The Medics) invited the Nightmares to play at his 'A Pretty Smart Way To Catch A Lobster' nights at the Alice In Wonderland club. The band's original line up of Naz Nomad, Sphinx Svenson, Nick Detroit, Buddy Lee Junior, and Ulla all showed up and played some allegedly storming sets. The young Bobby Gillespie also invited the band to play at his Splash 1 club night in Glasgow.
Despite renewed interest, the film still remains virtually impossible to view. A recent campaign on the film's IMDB message board to release the print led nowhere, so until some minor miracle occurs, the soundtrack album is all we have.

But a damned fine album it is!